The group stage of Copa América featured a fair amount of drama and disappointment (depending on who you support). Heavyweights Brazil and Uruguay somehow crashed out from their respective groups, and now Dunga is in search of a new job following his second stint as Brazil’s manager. On a positive note, the United States pulled off the unthinkable and snuck past Colombia to win a difficult Group A. We’re now down to the final eight of the tournament, and that means it’s time for me to make some predictions.
USA vs. Ecuador (6/16 9:30pm EST)
The first of the quarterfinals will be played up in the Pacific Northwest at Seattle’s CenturyLink field. The U.S. probably didn’t expect to be playing in this match, especially after losing in unconvincing fashion to Colombia in the opening match of the tournament, but now we’re here.
In their last two matches, Jürgen Klinsmann’s squad have shown arguably their best attacking and defensive performances of recent memory. Important to note that neither of those were in the same game. A 4-0 thrashing of Costa Rica showcased the creative ability that the Americans have in the midfield, and the potent finishing their strikers possess. Their hard fought 1-0 win against Paraguay gave rise to a new American hero in the brickwall that is John Brooks. Unfortunately, DeAndre Yedlin will miss this homecoming match through suspension, meaning that for the first time in the tournament, Klinsmann will have to field a new starting 11.
Switching gears to Ecuador, Gustavo Quinteros’ squad couldn’t have asked for a better result leading up to this match. In their final match of the group stage, La Tricolor smoked Haiti 4-0, capping off a six-goal streak over their last two games. West Ham’s Enner Valencia currently leads the nation with two goals, but five different players have found the back of the net, so far. Against Peru, Ecuador showed how fluid their attack can move, but how will they deal with a confident U.S. backline?
Prediction: U.S. 2-2 Ecuador (U.S. advance on penalties)
Peru vs. Colombia (6/17 8:00pm EST)
Peru are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in CONMEBOL. A third place finish at last year’s Copa América has now been followed up with a group-winning performance this time around. For the 48th-ranked team in FIFA, that’s not too shabby. On the other hand, Colombia must be disappointed to be playing as Group A’s runner-up after losing in dramatic fashion to Costa Rica on the final matchday. On paper, Colombia should win this match, but is that how it’ll play out?
You could argue that Peru are in this quarterfinal because of luck. Their goal to beat Brazil in order to advance was less of a kick and more of a punch. Raul Ruidíaz smacked the ball into the back of the net, and was somehow able to avoid the referee seeing it. Even then, you can’t take away from the fact that the Peruvians managed to keep two clean sheets, one of those against Brazil, in their three group games. Big saves from Pedro Gallese between the pipes have made up for some defensive lapses, and going against Colombia’s high-powered attack, the 26-year-old will probably have another busy day on Friday.
Turning to the Colombians, their final match of the group stage saw several key names missing from the starting lineup. James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, David Ospina and Carlos Bacca were all rested (Rodriguez and Cuadrado would be subbed on later in the match), and their absences were apparent as Colombia failed to impose themselves matches the way they did against the U.S. and Paraguay. With those stars now well-rested and ready to go, I’m looking for a statement performance against Peru to remind fans what they’re capable of at full strength. Through three games, the Colombians have scored six goals, don’t be surprised if that high scoring trend continues.
Prediction: Colombia 2-0 Peru
Argentina vs. Venezuela (6/18 7:00pm EST)
Few teams have looked as dominant as Argentina this tournament. La Albiceleste were a favorite going into Copa América and their performances through the group stage have only served to reinforce that belief. The team tasked with knocking them out is Venezuela. Rafael Dudamel narrowly snuck through their group with two straight one-goal wins and a draw, and this ability to grind for results might be the thing that pushes them past Messi and Co.
How is that Lionel Messi can be the joint top scorer of the tournament without starting a single game? The Ballon d’Or winner started the tournament off with a bang, bagging a hat-trick in just 19 minutes off the bench against Panama. Even though he didn’t score against Bolivia, Messi still provided the crowd with a moment of magic as he casually nutmegged the keeper on an offsides play. Now that Argentina are entering the knockout rounds of Copa América, it’s finally time for Messi to play a full 90 minutes. If anyone is going to unlock this stingy Venezuelan defense, it’s going to be him.
Through three games, Venezuela have allowed just a single goal. Clean sheets against Jamaica and a Luis Suárez-less Uruguay highlighted their stellar defensive run. Other than a highlight reel solo run from Jesus Corona for Mexico, the Venezuelan defense has been arguably the best in the tournament. Going up against the most potent attack in the tournament with Messi, Ángel Di María, and Sergio Aguero, Venezuela will face their toughest test of the tournament on Saturday. Will they have the talent and passion to sneak out another win, or is their luck about to run out?
Prediction: Argentina 3-0 Venezuela
Mexico vs. Chile (6/18 10:00pm EST)
This has to be the most exciting fixture of the quarterfinals. Mexico, the best team in CONCACAF (sorry to my compatriots), have shown the skill and composure to considered one of the favorites, at this point. A statement 3-1 win against Uruguay to start out the tournament sent a message to the rest of the countries, that El Tri were serious contenders. Now, they’ll face another title contender in Chile. Other than a narrow defeat to Argentina, the Chileans have been one of the most entertaining sides of the tournament. The stage is set for a blockbuster affair in San Francisco.
For El Tri, the focus has to be on their manager: Juan Carlos Osorio. The former São Paulo coach has led the Mexicans on an unbelievable 23-match unbeaten run. Victories over Uruguay, Chile and the United States highlight the streak, and show just how much a change in leadership can affect a team. While Miguel Herrera was loved for his antics at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it started to look like he was losing control of the side near the end of his reign. Under Osorio, it looks as if all of the talented players that Mexico has to work with on their squad, are finally starting to click and play to their potential. Can he maintain this amazing form and carry El Tri all the way to the final?
On the other end, Chile aren’t too shabby either. Alexis Sánchez has been the man to watch so far for La Roja as they look to repeat as Copa América champions. The Arsenal winger’s pace and skill on the wings has given Chile a quick outlet on counter attacks, and his nose for goal makes him a constant threat in and around the penalty area. Mexico have talented fullbacks to deal with him, but Sánchez looks like a man on a mission, as of late. Against Panama, the 27-year-old was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet three or four times but he did manage to hit one of the cleanest volleys I’ve ever seen. If Chile want to advance, they’ll need to feed the beast and get Sánchez on the ball.
Prediction: Mexico 3-2 Chile